Power of Words

I have a lot of respect for the power of words. As the year comes to an end I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next. Both personally, for the blog and my own creative life. Like many of the readers of this blog I struggle with keeping my creativity going. I appreciate posts like the one from James on using art books to stimulate creativity.

One of my favorite books to stimulate my own creativity is The Photographer’s Playbook. I’ve been feeling lost lately so I turned to this trusty book of photography assignments. I wanted to revisit an earlier exercise by Cig Harvey: Ideas into pictures, a two part assignment. Because I believe in the power of words, I really enjoyed this task when I first completed it in March 2016. It reminds me of the surrealists use of automatic writing to unlock the subconscious. The other reason I wanted to revisit this assignment was to see if anything had changed in my perspective in the intervening two years.

Deep thinker
I’m Still a Seeker

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to find out that I am still a seeker. I always seem to be asking questions. There are more questions than answers in my world. The biggest difference this time was the nature of the questions. They were much more specific. Change is a big part of my world right now. There are outside forces combining to rock my world and push me outside my comfort zone. Decisions need to be made. Ones that will have huge, long term impact on my day to day life. Needless to say, I’m looking for answers.

So I turned to words, because like I said earlier, there is power in words.

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.” Emily Dickinson

The Assignment

The first part of the assignment is to sit down and start writing. Write whatever comes into your head. If you don’t know where to start, start by describing what you’re doing and simply see where it goes. Let the words flow. Keep writing even if you get stuck. Write fast and don’t worry about spelling or sentence structure or what you’re saying. Let the words spill out. Keep writing until there are no words left.

After you complete this task, take a five minute break. Once you’re ready, read over your words and see if a concept, a theme, or an idea jumps out at you. Try to be specific about the word that you choose. This word will anchor your photographic journey.

Once you have your word grab a large sheet of paper and start free associating words that relate to your chosen word. Do this for at least 20 minutes. Choose words that fall under the following categories: metaphors, symbols, gestures, weather, animals, landscapes, emotions, light, depth of field, palette, frame, format and motion.

“At the end of our session you will have an unconventional shooting map – a place to begin if you are a constructor of pictures, or a heightened -awareness list of what to be searching for if you are a finder of pictures. ” – Cig Harvey

My unconventional shooting map based on the word seeker
The RAmifications

Since I began selling my art I’ve been getting more and more confused about what I should be photographing. The types of photos that play well on social media are not necessarily the ones that people want to hang on the walls of their homes. Or at least not the customers I’ve been attracting. As I look through my past images I discard 95% of them as not having anything to say. With seeker as my word, I’m not just on a journey, I’m on a journey for knowledge and meaning. Now I need to create work that reflects this deep desire.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a grand project. A year long project not unlike Kristina’s 52 weeks of reflections. This project will either be a stepping stone to something larger or it may be the end of my time as a toy photographer. Only time will tell.

Going for it!

If you’re find yourself stuck or in need of inspiration, I highly recommend this assignment. If you’re short on photography time, but still want to move your work forward, I highly recommend this assignment. It doesn’t take nearly as long as setting up a studio photo. This is the kind of assignment that can be done in between those pesky adult responsibilities. In addition, with 2018 looming large on the horizon, wouldn’t it be nice to start out the year with a shooting map? Who knows where you might end up!

Yes, there is magic and power in words.

“Words create worlds.” Pierre du Plessis


If you’ve made it this far, come continue the discussion over at our G+ community! And while you’re at it, subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post!

Best laid plans

The tree is up.
The gingerbread men have their annual holiday home.
The Star Wars tickets are booked.

I was done. I was ready to get down to enjoying the festive season and finally crack on with my promised Playmobil photos. Ready to sit in front of the fire and read a good book! I had plans for some serious down time!

Woody finds a great Christmas book!

But then, disaster. A moth attack. Bug cocoons everywhere. House upside down. Wardrobes emptied. Toys sealed in ziplock bags and boxes. No photos taken. No blog posts written. No time. No energy. A 365 in jeopardy right at the finish line. 18 days to go.

Panic stations and bug eyed! What a week!

Despite being a wreck over my house problems, I refused to miss a day at this late stage! However, I will admit to resorting to the most basic of toy photography this week. A simple ‘mini-me’ shot to get the photo in. A blurry bug fighting Woody in the midst of all the cleaning. There is just too much going on to get anything else done – sometimes life has to come before photography!

This is one of the big challenges of a 365 project – getting a balance between life and photography. There are always days in the year when taking a photo is the last thing you want to do. Sick days, busy days, days when it’s just difficult. It’s this, along with the constant need for ideas, that makes the 365 project the challenge it is. Everyone can take 365 photos at some point in a year, but the daily need for ideas and editing is something else entirely!

Can I just live in the gingerbread house?

With 18 days left, a disaster zone of a house, and exhaustion creeping in, I’m feeling very ready for the New Year now! I need a fresh start!

I’m ready to stop this particular project and focus on the community and my weekly toy photographers post (it’s official, I’m on the team page and everything!) I’m ready to do a little more thinking about photos and enjoy the freedom that (I hope) will come from having more time to mull over ideas and plan some shoots.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep my chin up and think about all the good things this season has to offer!

Gingerbread anyone?

The annual gingerbread house has gone down a treat!

What do you do when reality takes over your life? When you just don’t have the time or energy to shoot? Do you force yourself to do it, or take a step back and accept that you can’t always take pictures?

– Lizzi
Stepping on Bricks

The strong silent hype

We’ve been working on a project since October, but a signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement) means we can’t talk about it until February. The silence around this project almost silenced me. Almost!

Yesterday James wrote about finding inspiration to photograph from within the words and photos of books. Today I struggle to find the inspiration to write words based on the photographs I’ve been taking.

When all I’ve been working on is something that I’ve got to keep my silence about, it’s tough. When my weekly blog post generally evolves from, or relates to what I’ve been working on, it’s so freaking tough.

Being able to dedicate some serious weekend time to this project is a luxury afforded me from my wife and kids. To devote time to this project, especially during the busy Christmas build up and the frantic end of the work year wind down is such a blessing. Opening a blank blog draft, knowing that I’ve gathered no fodder to write about during the weekend’s activities is neither a blessing nor a luxury.

When I’m photographing toys I’m also thinking about words that can be drawn from that experience; creating snow, putting tips into practice, shooting someone’s shtick, tackling seasonal changes, lying in the wet sand… All of these posts emerged from the experience of taking photos of toys. Other experiences have lead to other topics to write about. However, the focus on this project keeps my thoughts from wandering.

Silence: Turning cogs
Turning cogs

I want to treat this project as a whole. I want to throw all at it. Don’t wander off in thought, thinking of other tasks I have to do, like writing my weekly post. Remain focused on the task at hand. That’s not easy for me. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m easily distrac…. oh look, a butterfly!

– Brett

Does your toy photography inspire you to do more? Where do you find inspiration to write?

If you’ve made through all my blathering and ended up here, you should sign up to our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of all the babbling from the week.

And while you’re doing things, you should definitely join our G+ Community where we hold monthly contests with prizes and lots of other cool stuff too.

Off the Shelf

We’ve discussed many sources of inspiration here on the blog. Things like exhibitions, a change in seasoncards, and challenges can get the creative juices flowing. This summer, Shelly wrote a piece about the books that help inspire her photography. I have a reference shelf of my own, though it’s not populated by studies on photography or creativity…

I love “Art of” books, usually those about my favorite films. I’ve talked before about being inspired by movies, and this is an extension of that.

Shelly’s image of her bookshelf inspired me to recreate it with my own!

If you’re unfamiliar, the “Art of” books I’m referring to usually center around a specific movie or television series. They’re collections of behind the scenes information, character and story details, and – most importantly – concept art, storyboards, and production stills.

“It’s time for Woody’s roundup, he’s the very best!”

When I’m in a creative funk, flipping through these books can help spark new ideas, or force me to think of my potential subjects in new and interesting ways.

There are hundreds of these books out there! If you’re working with any of LEGO’s licensed sets, or with action figures from properties like Star WarsAlien, or Marvel, you can easily find tomes to choose from. I have “Art of” books for Pixar, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Incredibles, Wonder Woman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Apart from the images – which have been helpful even for simple shot compositions – the actual text provides knowledge that I might have otherwise overlooked. Those details then help fuel the stories I tell!

LEGO Books

The other half of my shelf is filled with more specific books about LEGO. Things like Matthew Reinhart’s LEGO Pop-Up, a Journey through the LEGO Universe or our friend Vesa’s LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy.

Daydreaming of Hoth

Because these books specifically highlight LEGO – my photographic subject of choice – they are a bit more successful at igniting my creativity. I’ve been inspired by Vesa’s work for years, and I can’t tell you how valuable it’s been to have it accessible in such a tangible way.

lego books

I’m also a big fan of DK Publishing’s books like I Love that Minifigure or the character encyclopedias for LEGO Star Wars and LEGO DC Comics Superheroes. They usually come with a rare minifigure, and are packed with character details and minifig information. I’ve added many a minifig to my collection because I saw them in these books, and have since taken dozens of shots with them.

The Cult of LEGO

cult of lego

Last but not least is a book called The Cult of LEGO. Rather than simple referential information, it’s about the history of LEGO fandom. The book is chock full of information about various subsects and communities, and has countless photos of amazing LEGO builds and artwork.

Nothing sparks creativity for me like viewing the work of others. It inspires me to up my game, improve my skills, and tell better stories!

With Christmas just around the corner, perhaps you should consider adding these to your wishlist. Or buy them for a fellow photographer or artist!

Do you have any referential or art collection books that you use to spark your creativity? Tell us all about them in the comments below! 

– James

If you’ve made it this far, come continue the discussion over at our G+ community! And while you’re at it, subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post!


Firstly, thank you Shelly for inviting me to be a regular contributor. I look forward to coming up with materials to contribute to this blog. For my first piece, I would like to share my experience of doing talks and workshops on toy photography.

It all started at a local comic convention 2 years ago when a teacher popped by my booth and asked whether I would be interested to have a sharing session on toy photography with her students. Toy photography was one of the modules she taught as part of the art appreciation program in her school. I said yes without hesitation. This chance meeting motivated me to prepare a presentation that has since become indispensable for future talks.


It felt weird entering the school compound on the day of the talk. It was a nice kind of weird. The nostalgic kind. The kids were a tad restless during the talk, but I managed to keep them entertained with my presentation format of showing some behind the scenes shots followed by the actual final picture.

This was my very first talk on toy photography and I over prepared, stretching almost an hour. I guess I wanted to share too much! This left with little time for practical lessons….but what little time I had with the kids was an eye opener as I could see one or two kids with great potential, with a great eye for composition, light and shadows. I hoped I left an impression on at least one student to continue shooting toys even after their official lessons are over.

MY NEXT GIG – the Public Library

I attended a designer toy talk last year organized by the local public library. Halfway through the talk, the idea of holding a toy photography talk at the library jumped into my head. I figured the same people who bought designer toys would probably want to extend their passion beyond collecting them.

I dragged the organizer aside and told her about my idea. Emails were exchanged and I sent them a proposal. Months passed and I received a reply not only to conduct a talk and workshops over a period of 1 month, but they suggested to open the library slightly earlier on one weekend for me and my pals from Plastic Singapore do a themed photo shoot. Here is a short video clip of that particular outing.


Talking to students was one thing, now I had to face the general public and I was a tad nervous. I rehearsed the presentation countless times and made additional notes on each slides. I also googled on how to give an interesting presentation. Start off with a joke was what I found to be a useful tip. Which I did with a origin story of my online name: zekezachzoom.

My presentation breakdown kind of goes like this:
How I got started
Influences that shaped my imagination
Sources of inspiration
What kind of photos to shoot
What makes a good pic e.g. Composition, lighting, storytelling
Tools e.g. lighting equipment, wires and of course blue tac!
Post Production and color grading

I would go through each section with a simple setup shot and then the final picture. This format went on throughout the presentation which I hoped would keep the audience entertained and look forward to the final picture.

As the talk progressed, I became more relax as I was eager to show the shots after each behind the scenes photo. Any reaction from the final photo was priceless. I would end each presentation telling the audience to never lose that inner child in all of us.

“Be Foolish. Be Curious. Be a Child Again.”

When it came to the workshops, it was another challenge trying to come up with the setup. Up till the very last minute, I was still not sure what to do, as I was concern about lighting setup and dioramas. In the end, I decided to just do it the way I have been shooting and that was to use everyday objects and simple lighting to introduce the visitors to the world of toy photography. I would show them how mundane the setup was and when they start to zoom in to the figures and frame the shot, it was always a blast to see their reaction. The response from the crowd was encouraging and I had a lot of fun.

I completed one more talk recently and realized that I no longer needed the additional notes. With experience, I had managed to overcome my nervousness and enjoyed the whole presentation process.


Recently, I began emailing organizations I thought might be keen to host talks on toy photography. Some of these include the Apple Store, polytechnics and photographic clubs. One polytechnic did indicate their interest and is sorting out the logistics for holding a talk for their design students, so I am really looking forward to this. I hope the others come back to me with a positive respond too.

I am keen to conduct more talks and workshops at either primary or secondary schools again, but have yet to work on any proposal. It’s on the to-do list.


I have always enjoyed sharing knowledge and ideas, be it design, software application, or anything that I think might help others improve their skills. I hope it will inspire people to look at their toys differently and express their creativity and love for these plastic figures beyond merely collecting and displaying them.
I take it as a challenge to spread the joy of toy photography on my little island.

Don’t Rock the Toy Boat!

Is there a place for social conscience in toy photography? Should a sense of responsibility or concern for the problems and injustices of society play a part in photographs of toys?

Julie has written about using toy photography to make sense of the current state of the world. Yuri wrote about the toy photography community uniting us in a world that divides. Julien wrote that toy photography is a way to escape from the daily world.

As well as using toy photography as an outlet to make sense of or escape the world, or as a means to unify in a divided world, maybe there’s also a place for toy photography to question the world?

So, you can go ahead and roll your eyes and marginalize me
Play on my insecurities
And you can feign ignorance, but you’re not stupid, you’re just selfish
And you’re a slave to your impulse
Propagandhi – Apparently, I’m A “P.C. Fascist” (Because I Care About Both Human And Non-Human Animals)

LEGO artists such and @legojacker and @pulup post photos that challenge world and local politics and society, Brian McCarty challenges the wars in this world with his toy photography, and we’ve tackled the inequity in the gender balance in the LEGO CMF series releases with the help of our friend Rambling Brick. And I’m sure I’ve left so many others out.

social conscience: Don't Rock The Boat!
Don’t Rock The Boat!

Us addressing the injustices of society shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. The injustices of society SHOULD make you uncomfortable.

I’m the little girl at the picnic
Who won’t stop pulling her dress up
It doesn’t matter who’s in control now
It doesn’t matter ’cause this is new radio
Bikini Kill – New Radio

Plastic Punks

A long time ago I wrote about the parallels between toy photography and punk culture and the D.I.Y. ethos associated with it. Consequently it’s this punk philosophy that keeps me wanting to question and challenge the socially accepted norm.

social conscience: Punks Not Dead
Punks Not Dead

I don’t want to hear it
Sick and tired of all your lies
I don’t want to hear it
When are you gonna realize…
Minor Threat – I Don’t Wanna Hear It

Surely a social conscience stretches beyond the vehicle that I choose to express that voice through? Just because I choose toys as the subject for my photography should I muzzle my principles? Is it because toys are considered a child’s plaything?

One of my favourite artists, punk art surrealist Winston Smith, creates politically charged works that challenge the viewer to confront inconsistencies and political contradictions. And he uses collages to do this, pasting pieces of paper onto another.

Didn’t we all cut and paste as children? How childish!

I know you’re right
Everything you do is right
Everything I do is true
Babes In Toyland – Bluebell

Social Conscience > Social Media

We talk about toy photography telling stories. Are toys barred from delving deeper into substantial matters? Should those stories be limited to the publicly perceived acceptable depths that toys are allowed to probe?

– Brett

Do you think there’s a place for social conscience in toy photography?

If you’ve made through all my blathering and ended up here, you should sign up to our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of all the babbling from the week.

And while you’re doing things, you should definitely join our G+ Community where we hold monthly contests with prizes and lots of other cool stuff too.

48 weeks with reflections

Its time to stop and reflect about my work. If I were to sum it up, it’s about me chasing reflections for 48 weeks. This journey started with a dinner with Shelly in Stockholm, during which we decided that the theme for 2017 would be reflections.

I decided to work with a toy that had a clear role. It is a princess. In my work I have reflected a lot about what it means to be a princess, or a woman from a fiction in a galaxy far, far away.

The princess was not my first choice

As I already told you, the princess from ”a galaxy far, far way” was not my first choice. My choice fell on her because I never thought anyone but me would tell her story like I would. Looking back at my work I see that I haven’t told her story at all, only my own, with my light and with my melancholy.

It took me a long time, much longer than ever could dream, before I realized that I had fallen for my toy. It did not happen until it got dirty, a little bit stretched and marked by my play with the water puddles. Constantly falling down from a rock or in a puddle. I fell for the toy when it was a little more like me.

She became me

I have worked with reflections to reflect myself through the fictional figure, and through this toy I have portrayed the everyday beauty that I have found in the water puddles. My search has been portrayed with a toy. Now that I’m almost at the end of the road, I know that the next toy that I’ll be using needs to be one that is more anonymous. One that can be more like me, or you, without anyone reading a different figure in it. When I finish this project I know that I’ll miss my princess and the possibilities that caring her around has given me.


Ho! Ho! Whoa!

With Christmas approaching, Shelly suggested a Secret Santa gift exchange amongst the Google+ Toy Photographers Moderators.

Eight Moderators signed up, each being allocated another to find a $20US gift to add to their toy photography arsenal.

Buying a toy for a toy photographer. Easy, right? Not necessarily.

This seemingly simple gift exchange has morphed into an exercise in investigation. Trawling though feeds to gauge an interest. Scanning photos for prospective gifts that might me absent from their extensive collection. Examining posts for a gift that is likely to complement an existing assembly, or send the recipient off in a new direction in their toy photography.

Xmas has been X’d
No colored lights, no shopping sprees
No more presents under dead trees
NOFX – Xmas Has Been X’ed

Getting Lost in the Search

As I meandered through their catalogue of creativeness, I got lost and forgot why I was there.

Secret Santa: Sneaky Santa
Sneaky Santa

I became engrossed in recurring themes. I chronicled the acquisition of new toys as they joined the throng. As I wandered through the months, the seasons changed and painted different pictures. Favourite toys made regular appearances. Styles and techniques evolved, yet remained true to their origins.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
Bad Religion – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

I discovered I was one being given a gift, the gift of seeing the evolution of a friend’s toy photography, as I searched for that elusive gift. I got to rediscover forgotten photos and experience new ones.

Secret Santa or Sneaky Santa?

Good luck looking clues as to who I was allocated in the Secret Santa if you’re one of the G+ Moderators.  I covered my tracks. I made sure not to like, +1 or comment on any of the archival images I was snooping through!

– Brett

When was the last time you scrolled back through someone’s feed? When did you last look back at the evolution of one of your toy photography friends?

If you’ve made through all my blathering and ended up here, you should sign up to our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of all the babbling from the week.

Maintaining Momentum

We toy photographers sure are a busy bunch! Shelly has turned to setting deadlines to reach her goals, and Brett balances his full plate with intentional, restrictive time management in the editing room.

As we draw closer and closer to the end of the year, I’ve found that I too am struggling to keep up with the passage of time. Projects I envisioned or began earlier in the year have fallen by the wayside, photo ideas have gone untaken, and I feel constantly behind schedule. In fact, this very post is being written last-minute thanks to traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. I rushed the setting sun in order to nab my required photos in time!

“It’s late, it’s late, and I haven’t taken a photo yet!”

I have a few things to blame for my being behind schedule. 2017 as a whole has been a tumultuous year for me personally, which has thrown any sense of routine or planning out the window. I’ve started on several big photo projects, have been building a freelance business, and have exciting secretive things planned that I’ll be able to announce and fully discuss soon.

With holidays, family gatherings, and end-of-the-year anxiety in the mix, I’ve began to lose one of the most important things for success: Momentum. 

“Success is like a snowball. You gotta get it moving and the more you roll in the right direction, the greater it gets.” -Steve Ferrante

When I lose momentum, I lose focus.

I lose the drive to continue with responsibilities or ambitions. Even the smallest of tasks begin to feel overwhelming, and the finish line escapes view completely.

This loss in momentum comes in waves, and can be caused by a variety of things. Depression, anxiety, self doubt, crazy work schedules, a loss of motivation, poor health, “real world” responsibilities… the list goes on and on.

“I’m just going to rest. Just… for… a… minute… zzzzz”

Actually regaining momentum can be difficult to do. What’s helpful can change depending on the situation. Regardless of what you find helpful, one key element can keep the momentum building: Consistency. 

“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.” – Michael Korda

Consistency compounds.

Even the smallest tasks, repeatedly and consistently completed, can build your momentum. This time of year, I find that a routine is supremely helpful to me. So, every day, I try to go to bed at the same time. If I do this consistently, I’ll eventually make it a habit,  and I’ll stop staying up so late that it throws off my other goals and responsibilities. Then I find other things affecting my routine, and I repeat the process.

I find that giving myself deadlines (and sticking to them), trying to accomplish at least one small artistic goal each day, keeping up on my photo walks, and planning my creative output can all build up or continue my momentum.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. But it’s well worth the effort!

What have you found that helps you maintain your momentum? Do you lose momentum at the end of the year? Tell us your tips in the comments!


If you’ve made it this far, come continue the discussion over at our G+ community! And while you’re at it, subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post!

“I’m late, I’m late!’

Feeling Gratitude

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. William Arthur Ward

If you’ve been a reader of my writing for any length of time you know I periodically like to take a moment to pause and reflect on all I have to be grateful for. With the United States Thanksgiving Holiday just passed and the holiday season just around the corner, now seems like a good time to express some gratitude.

Many hands make light work. John Heywood

Continue reading Feeling Gratitude